Pena's return could bring Rays power
First baseman led the team in homers and RBIs in 2007
ST. PETERSBURG -- The Rays' early success has been buoyed by the club's ability to translate stingy defense and strong pitching into series wins.
And while the formula is one that manager Joe Maddon has preached since Spring Training, even the Rays skipper would like to see some of the club's firepower rub off onto the bats.
The return of last year's Silver Slugger, Carlos Pena, could be the positive shakeup the Rays lineup needs as the season inches toward the midway marker.
After missing 19 games with a left index finger fracture, Pena returned to the team on Friday in Pittsburgh and went a respectable 3-for-13 -- with a double, RBI and run scored -- over the three-game set.
"It takes six weeks to [completely] heal," Pena said of the injury suffered when he was hit by a pitch by Boston's Justin Masterson on June 3.
"I understand that it's going to hurt and it's going to be sore, but I'm extremely pleased with my progress."
So is Maddon, who said he has been checking in with Pena daily to make sure that there is no abnormal soreness for the Rays' starting first baseman. So far, so good.
"I think he's on his way back to being relatively normal right now," Maddon said. "I thought he got better every day [of the Pirates series]."
While having Pena back at first base has been welcome relief for the Rays, who are without the services of suspended second baseman Akinori Iwamura, it is his powerful bat that could really help fill a void.
"He's a great candidate," Maddon said about Pena's chances of breaking out offensively. "Carl [Crawford's] a candidate, B.J. [Upton's] a candidate, we have a lot of candidates. ... I would love to be able to take the same route we've taken defense and pitching-wise, and build on the offensive side of things, because it's there for us. It's not like it's a reach to think that these guys can do that. It's definitely within their game."
Pena, who finished last season the team leader in home runs (46), RBIs (121) and slugging percentage (.627), wouldn't mind giving the rest of the Majors a repeat viewing.
Could he be the Ray that starts the offensive firestorm?
"Of course. Yes, that's the way I envision myself being," Pena said, adding that he is "so hungry" at the plate. "But having said that, the only way that happens is understanding this is a nine-man team."
While Pena may quick to shy away from focusing on individual accolades, Maddon is more vocal in believing that the two go hand-in-hand.
"If we can maintain what we've been doing in certain aspects of the game and just turn on the offense, it will be pretty interesting," he said.
Brittany Ghiroli is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.